European Leaders Driven to New Lockdowns by Surge in Virus
(Bloomberg) -- Large swathes of Europe enter lockdown this week, with England joining nations from Austria to Greece in concluding that tougher action is needed to stop the coronavirus spreading out of control.
Over the summer, leaders attempted to strike a balance between protecting public health and fostering an economic recovery. But in a region which has seen more than 220,000 deaths from Covid-19, their hands have been forced by the sheer number of infections, with a winter peak threatening to be even worse than the initial wave in the spring.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who on Saturday announced England will enter partial lockdown, will on Monday try to fend off a looming rebellion from members of his Conservative Party by trying to reassure them the measures will only last four weeks.
In Italy, the original epicenter of the pandemic in Europe, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte faces resistance from regional governors over mini-lockdowns for the worst-hit cities.
Here’s the latest on pandemic measures in key European countries:
A four-week partial lockdown in England starts Nov. 5. It’s less strict than the first one in March, with waivers for schools and universities. Johnson resisted for weeks before resorting to the new measures, persisting with a localized, tiered set of social-distancing rules. His scientific advisers concluded they weren’t reducing infections enough, putting the National Health Service at risk of being overwhelmed by December.
While a snap YouGov poll showed the move is supported by almost three-quarters of the population, the prime minister will be concerned by opposition from his own party. Graham Brady, chair of an influential committee of rank-and-file Tory MPs, told BBC radio he’s likely to vote against the government when the plan is put to Parliament on Wednesday because he’s worried about a repetitive cycle of lockdowns and the intrusion into people’s lives. The measures are still expected to pass because the main opposition party backs them.
In a statement to the House of Commons on Monday, Johnson will say the government intends to revert to the current system of regional restrictions from Dec. 2, according to extracts released by his office. One of Johnson’s top ministers warned on Sunday the lockdown may need to be extended if the virus transmission rate doesn’t fall enough.
Johnson’s announcement came on the day total U.K. cases passed the 1 million mark. The country has the highest death toll in Europe.
Chancellor Angela Merkel -- who will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. in Berlin after a meeting of Germany’s special coronavirus cabinet -- has pledged to do “everything necessary” to help cushion the impact on the economy of the partial lockdown that takes effect Monday.
The new measures will severely limit movement, closing bars, restaurants and hotels while keeping schools open. Germany is in a “dramatic situation,” with health-care services stretched close to the limit and authorities no longer able to track infections back to the source, Merkel said last week.
Her chief of staff, Helge Braun, said late Sunday the latest curbs will only be lifted if Germany’s seven-day incidence drops below 50 per 100,000 inhabitants, allowing effective contact tracing again. It’s currently at 114.6, according to the RKI public health institute.
“We’re meeting again in mid-November with the regional premiers to see where we are,” Braun said on ARD TV.
More than 21,500 new cases were reported on Saturday and the number of deaths rose to 129, the second day this month with more than 100 fatalities. The number of new infections dropped back on Sunday and Monday.
In neighboring Austria, a partial lockdown starting Tuesday is similar to Germany’s, with schools and non-essential stores open and restrictions on staying home applying only at night.
Premier Conte may approve further restrictions that would stop short of a nationwide lockdown. He is due to address parliament on Monday ahead of an evening cabinet meeting that could stop travel between regions and close shopping malls at weekends, Corriere della Sera and La Stampa wrote on Sunday.
Stricter localized curbs -- including mini-lockdowns for the worst hit cities such as Milan and Naples -- would be left to regional authorities. That strategy is opposed by some governors who argue that if a lockdown is necessary it should be applied to the country as a whole.
Italy, the first Western country to impose a lockdown during the first wave, has so far resisted the sweeping new restrictions being adopted by its peers. It has already set an 11 p.m. curfew, shut down gyms, swimming pools and entertainment venues, and Conte has said that keeping schools open will be a challenge.
The French government plans to address the concerns of store owners affected by the country’s current partial lockdown by imposing limits on supermarkets’ sale of non-essential items and the number of shoppers allowed at any one time, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said in a BFM TV interview.
If the outbreak slows, lawmakers will try to find a way to allow stores to open in the coming weeks, he said, possibly by using an appointment system for shoppers.
Labor Minister Elisabeth Borne has said it’s “an obligation” for those who can work from home to do so, and there can be penalties for businesses that don’t play by the book as they have a duty to protect employees.
A majority of Spain’s 17 regions have already closed their domestic borders or will do so this week, preventing non-essential travel.
Targeted regional lockdowns will remain in force until after Nov. 9, and cover consecutive bank-holiday weekends, which would typically lead to massive flows of travelers moving across the country.
Regional authorities have extraordinary powers to declare curbs on movement after Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced a state of emergency on Oct. 25. Spain last week reported more than 9,000 daily coronavirus infections on two consecutive days, the most since tracking started.
From Sunday, all non-essential stores were closed, and a partial ban on visits to family and friends was imposed, in an attempt to stem the flow of hospital admissions. Schools will also stay closed for two weeks. A night curfew is already in place and bars and restaurants were closed earlier this month.
Each household will be allowed a single visit of each week, while those living alone will be allowed to see one more person.
The nation of 11 million, which hosts the European Union’s main institutions and NATO’s headquarters, has one of the highest death rates from coronavirus in the world, despite having one of Europe’s strongest health-care systems.
Greece is taking further steps to contain the spread of the disease after the country posted a record 2,056 new cases on Saturday.
From Tuesday, the country will be divided into high-risk and under-surveillance zones. In high-risk areas, including the capital Athens, restaurants, bars, cinemas, museums, theaters and gyms will close, though people will still be allowed to move among regions. Industry, schools, retail shops, hotels and hair salons will remain open nationwide.
A nighttime curfew will start half an hour earlier at midnight and the use of masks will be compulsory in all indoor and outdoor spaces regardless of the level of transmission risk.
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